Dr. Geneva Gay is a nationally and internationally renowned professor of Multicultural Education and a true advocate for the OSDI (formerly OMRR). Dr. Gay was invited to talk about what led her to become a professor at the College of Education.
Dr. Gay, thank you for accepting the OSDI (formerly OMRR) invitation to talk with us. To get us started, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in the rural part of northeastern Georgia. I attended all Black elementary, middle school, and high school. During that time my part of town was still very much segregated. After high school I moved to Ohio to attend The University of Akron, which was a bit of culture shock. I went from being in predominately Black space to an almost all White space. I received my undergraduate degree in Social Studies and my masters in Contemporary United States History and the Middle East. After receiving my Masters I taught high school social studies for a few years in Ohio. After some years, I realized, with the help of my students, that I needed to get away and figure out me. That is when I decided to go back to school. I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin for PhD in Education.
Dr. Gay, what is your role in the CoE and what is your area of expertise?
I am a full professor that exclusively focuses on teaching. I have a joint appointment here in the CoE that is 2/3 multicultural education and 1/3 general curriculum.
Why and how do you advocate for diversity through your work?
I write about it, teach about it, and live about it. My high school students opened my eyes to my professional and personal ethical and moral contradictions: what and how I taught in the classroom did not always match my behaviors outside of the classroom. Since then I have made it a point to make sure my behaviors are consistent with what I preach. First and foremost, I am here to serve the students, who are the future of the all the work we do here in the CoE.
I am also an anchor for students of color and allies. I am an unofficial mentor for many of marginalized students and I pride myself on being there for those students.
What is it like being a faculty member of color?
I am grounded and comfortable with myself because if I were not this journey through the academy would be hard as hell. There are a lot of things that make it difficult for faculty of color to be at ease, comfortable and healthy. As Claude Steele says, stereotype are in the air and that is very true for faculty of color. No institution has taken its self to task to change the deep infrastructure and ethos of the academy. I have and still do encounter microaggressions and stereotypes; however I take charge of what and who will affect me. I control me.
Why is the CoE a good place for faculty of color?
The CoE has a great ratio of ethnic and cultural diversity. Of our roughly 60 full time faculty, roughly a third of our faculty is diverse. Many of our sister schools can’t attest to that. Also this is a productive faculty.
At the graduate level we have a great mixture of international students. There are so many things that faculty of color can learn from students from different backgrounds. Students learn from me, but I also learn a great deal from my students.
This university carries such a powerful national and international reputation. And if you, as a faculty of color, can endure, people will recognize that you are a faculty member at the University of Washington, and that carries some serious weight for your academic and professional career. But all of this must be balanced with the notion of daily quality of life. That is very important.
What advice do you have for prospective and current students at the CoE?
For prospective students, first, do a careful critical analysis of the institution and its surroundings so you have a better idea of what you will have to negotiate. Don’t just rely on the PR that is sent out. Secondly, start small then scale up your engagement and involvement. Especially for those that have been away from school for some time, you have to relearn how to be a student. Start off with classes then negotiate how you want to be involved within the college and the university on academic and professional spheres. Don’t hit the ground running, take it gradually.
For current students, position yourself to see faculty outside of the classroom. That means attend talks, college events, gatherings just to see how faculty members position themselves. Lastly, formally or informally find a mentor. Whether that be for academic, professional, socioemotional, or general life adjustment needs.
Thank you very much for sharing your ideas, and for sending these great messages to both students, current and prospective students, and to all the College of Education and University of Washington family.